Why our new res hall won’t be LEED certified

By Sara Cores ‘13SAS Sustainablility Chair

This week, SAS collected responses of students’ opinions regarding LEED certification in a new residence hall through a brief survey. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of certification. Out of the 230 students that took the survey, 91.2 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Achieving LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum certification for the new residence hall should be a priority for Scripps College.” Similarly, 69 percent agreed or strongly agreed that LEED certification should be a priority for Scripps College even if this leads to a redesign or reallocation of funds. When presented with the data from the other Claremont Colleges in relation to LEED certification, the number of students who strongly agreed that LEED certification should be a priority rose by 7 percent, bringing the total of students who agreed or strongly agreed to 91.5 percent. The numbers do not lie. Scripps students want to see the new residence hall become LEED certified. In fact, the comments written at the end of the survey included very positive feedback. One student wrote, “YES YES YES! The choices colleges and universities make around the country tend to influence the rest of the country.” Another wrote, “I would be very disappointed if sustainability wasn’t a priority of a building project at Scripps” and yet another stated “If it’s not LEED  certified it shouldn’t happen!”

But what is LEED and what would it mean for Scripps College to achieve LEED certification for the new residence hall? Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally recognized certification that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in March of 2000. Its purpose is to promote “sustainable building and development practices through a suite of rating systems that recognize projects that implement strategies for better environmental and health performance” (source: USGBC website). LEED certification is divided into three different levels: Silver, Gold, and  Platinum. Meeting the California building codes is the equivalent of achieving LEED Silver certification. However, in order to receive the certification, Scripps would have to submit an application documenting compliance with the LEED requirements for Silver, as well as pay application and registration fees. LEED Gold certification would require supplementary sustainable measures such as dual flush toilets, waterless urinals, LED lighting, and a minimum of 75 percent day lighting. LEED Platinum certification additionally requires solar water heaters, photovoltaic panels, lighting, and power controls ,and high performance windows. Although LEED certification would lead to an overall increase in the budget for the project, LEED initiatives have a high investment return rate long-term.

Those who oppose LEED certification argue that it is too expensive for the College and that “we cannot afford it at this time.” There also have been thesis projects produced by 5C students arguing that LEED certification does not encourage “community” or that its environmental impact is much smaller than most claim. So, why go LEED?

Making the new residence hall LEED certified would go beyond the title of the accreditation. It would show, finally, that “Scripps College is committed to conducting all of its activities in a manner that is sensitive to the environment,” as stated in admissions materials. Similarly, it would hold the college accountable to sustainable construction standards throughout the development of the project. By committing to LEED, Scripps would be committing to something larger than LEED itself. It would become a leader and example of sustainable initiatives on campus. It would put sustainability at the forefront of our actions and discussions. Finally, it would demonstrate Scripps’ capability and willingness to keep up with the rest of the consortium.

We are the only one of the 5Cs without a LEED certified building and we will be the first school to engage in a new construction that is not LEED certified. After Pomona and Pitzer, Scripps has the largest number of students registered in the Environmental Analysis program, and student-driven initiatives like the Motley and the Student Garden are a reflection of our students’ commitment to sustainability. Isn’t it about time that the administration showed its commitment too?

So, why are we not going LEED? Well, the decision has yet to be made whether we will end up aiming for LEED or not. However, the administration is currently leaning towards NOT having a LEED certified residence hall due to financial constraints, even though a year ago the New Residence Hall committee suggested that it should be LEED certified.

If the administration ends up going ahead with the project without aiming for at least LEED gold certification, the implications will be greater than simply not having a LEED certified building. It would show that our representative system has failed us as a whole.

The current SAS and Board of Trustees (BOT) bylaws only allow three students to be present at each committee meeting where all the decision-making happens. Out of those three students, only two are allowed to vote on any initiative, project, or proposal. The students who sit on these committees are supposed to be “representing” the student body at large, and not just their personal opinion on a particular topic.

Moreover, they are supposed to report back to the student body what is being discussed in these meetings and what decisions are being made. Yet without access to the student body, how are these students expected to represent us and report back to the student body? And in a room full of men and women with years of experience and powerful positions outside the room, how are three students supposed to voice the opinion of the student body on these matters?

The process of persuading the administration to move to a LEED certified building has shed some light on the current flaws of our “representative” system that the administration is so proud of (we are part of only a handful of colleges that let the students sit in these committees). Moreover, it is demonstrating that the pioneering education Scripps so proudly preaches in the classroom is left exactly there. We may have to modify our mission statement to read something like: “At Scripps, every woman has the chance to pioneer new paths: to engage her imagination, explore her own potential, and encourage her own style of leadership in an environment that supports independent thinking, creativity, and personal expression within the constraints of the academic setting.”

In fact, students will become increasingly complacent, realizing their voice is trivial in these matters. The administration would fare better if they approached the students and engaged them in the decision-making process of all new initiatives. Scripps students are extremely well equipped to deal with financial constraints and challenges and we rarely set ourselves up for failure. After all, it was Ellen Browning Scripps herself who said, “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.” We have developed our critical and independent thinking and we believe that the new residence hall should be LEED certified. We have asked the administration to follow the necessary steps to make sure Scripps obtains its first LEED certification, demonstrating its committed to sustainability in the long term. Now, we confidently and courageously hope they will move ahead with the student perspective in mind. If Ellen Browning Scripps were here today, she would demand it so.

It will be LEED or it will NOT be ours.

Sara Estevez Cores is the SAS Sustainability Chair for the 2012-2013 academic year. She has been a member of the sustainability committee for two and a half years. Her project “Seeds for Change” was presented at the Clinton Global Initiative University 2011 as “as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge.”  She is also the recipient of the Davis Project for Peace grant and the Strauss Scholarship for the 2011-2012 academic year. Any questions, comments or concerns should be emailed to sas.sustainabilitychair@gmail.com. These will be addressed in next week’s video blog.